September 1, 2006, 12:00 AM

Heavy traffic not reason enough to rev engine, new study says

Web site traffic is not necessarily the best way to measure one shopping engine over another, Jupiter Research reports. In a new study, it found that Yahoo Shopping led with number of unique visitors, but MSN Shopping led in frequency of visits and PriceGrabber.com in the number of site pages visited per month.

There’s more than one way to gauge the power of a shopping search engine, and traffic is not necessarily the best measure of how a retailer might fare on one shopping engine vs. another, according to the findings of a Jupiter Research study based on its CORE (composite online rating of effectiveness) Index. The study, “Shopping Search CORE-Shopping Engines Top General Engines in Use Intensity,” highlights how shopping search engines, as well as general search engines, differ in terms of their ability to attract, retain and direct searchers to e-commerce sites.

Shopping search engines that score high in traffic-unique visitors-don’t necessarily score well in two other indexes tracked by Jupiter that play into the engines’ ability to direct traffic to e-commerce sites. Frequency of visits was defined as the average use days per visitor per month; intensity was defined as the number of pages on the site accessed per month. Jupiter’s study, based on data from this year, found that among shopping engines, Yahoo Shopping scored highest in the number of unique visitors but MSN Shopping scored highest in frequency of visits and PriceGrabber.com scored highest in the intensity index.

What do these findings mean for the shopping engines and e-retailers that list on the engines?

For shopping engines, a gap between the ability to attract visitors and the ability to bring them back again for frequent or intense use reveals an opportunity to make better use of that traffic after it arrives. Closing that gap might mean improving listings by providing inventory, shipping cost and other information on products, or adding promotions from retailers to enhance the site experience, Jupiter’s report concludes. It also could mean improving navigation to enable easier sorting of shopping results for visitors. It’s through such measures that PriceGrabber, for example, while scoring lowest of the three in unique visitors, scored high on the frequency index because of its focus on services and the visitor shopping experience.

For retailers, knowing that shopping engines vary in unique visitors, frequency and intensity of use provides data to help inform and guide strategy. For example, if an engine that attracts a lower number of visitors nevertheless manages to promote deep use among the visitors it does get, retailers can use that kind of information to customize content for different engines.

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